Indie Game Radar: Project Wingman

pdjte

I believe there have been a few indie attempts in the past to emulate Namco’s Ace Combat series of jet fighter games, or at least indie aerial combat games that lift elements of the series, but Project Wingman might be the closets or at least the most striking I’ve seen yet. It sort of looks like what Ace Combat would be if Namco kept making it with modern graphics, or perhaps a preview of what the upcoming Ace Combat 7 might look like.

If you haven’t played Ace Combat, the appeal of these games is in the uniquely balanced feel of their gameplay and aesthetics. Basically, Ace Combat manages to play like an accessible arcade game while looking like a hardcore simulator.The user interface looks very busy but also has the flat austerity you’d imagine a real jet cockpit to have. The controls have a slight learning curve but ultimately let you intuitively perform absurd stunts. I always liked how IGN’s 2007 review of Ace Combat 6 put it:

“It looks real enough and you’re inside a real jet cockpit, but you can still be that imaginary ace that you’ve built up in your head all these years. Nose diving towards an ocean only to pull up at the last minute in a gravity-defying move that sends you underneath a bridge while barrel rolling can be a reality. And you never run out of ammo because the war is on your shoulders and you absolutely need to blow up every last thing on your radar.” It’s kind of the same as how the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games want to look “authentic” without being realistic, but Ace Combat always perfected that balance.

Some console users however seem to have been put off by the simulation look, and on the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen PC users who don’t get the need to emulate Ace Combat because they’re more partial to actual flying simulators. Still, the franchise seems to be popular enough to occasionally get an indie game trying to attract its audience. Enter Project Wingman.

I caught this game through its tumblr devlog which links to a free alpha demo on itch. It’s extremely early, but developer RB-D2 already has a single sortie mission working where you can use a few planes to pretty much do what you do in Ace Combat — bomb guns on the ground and get into dogfights. Even the weapons and how they work are pretty much the same: you get hundreds of missiles and engage enemy planes at ranges more reminiscent of World War II. One neat addition Wingman brings that hasn’t been in an Ace Combat is that reticle some western flight combat games use to show you where you should be shooting to compensate for your target’s movement.

What initially struck me about Wingman is that despite being a tiny indie alpha, through the sheer force of modern development tools, in some ways it manages to have a more realistic look than the most recent Ace Combat games. Namco hasn’t shipped an Ace Combat for modern hardware yet so Wingman is sort of a keyhole into what it might look like with more modern lighting techniques, motion blur, and other kinds of post-processing. Its art assets are definitely in an early state but the missile trails, explosions, and gunfire already present make for warlike landscapes I haven’t really seen before.

From what little I’ve seen I think Wingman has a lot of potential if RB-D2 can keep up work on it. At the very least it might keep some people busy while waiting for Ace Combat 7 (which is still listed as a PS4 exclusive right now).

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